No one ever thinks that one day they are going to become a quadriplegic mouth-painter...
Mariam Fatima Paré was born in Kenitra Morocco. Her father, a Marine Sargent was stationed in Morocco after the Vietnam War to work at the American Embassy and her mother was from near Tangier Morocco. They came to live in the United States when she was very young.
Mariam always loved to paint ever since she was a little girl. Her family was aware that she was born an artist. This passion for creating art continued throughout her teenage years, and as an aspiring and talented college-level art student, Mariam dreamed of a career making art. However, Mariam’s journey was diverted tragically off course when, in 1996, at the age of 20 years old, she became the victim of gun violence.
While stopped at a stop sign in the driver’s seat of a friend’s car, gun fire erupted on the adjacent sidewalk. In a matter of seconds, the unthinkable happened and Mariam’s life changed forever. A single bullet passed through the door of the car and struck Mariam in the back of her neck paralyzing her instantly. Mariam remembers watching as her own hands dropped lifelessly from the steering wheel onto her lap, still conscious but unable to move. The gunshot wound resulted in a spinal cord injury at the C5/C7 level. For the rest of her life Mariam would be a quadriplegic; permanently unable to walk and with significant loss of function in her upper extremities. The assailant was never identified or caught.
So began a new life. Mariam embarked on a long period of rehabilitation; months and years of slowly and painfully relearning to do everyday activities she had previously taken for granted. She learned to get around using a wheelchair. She learned new ways of holding things with fingers that did not move. She learned to use her mouth for tasks that required a tight grip or precision in her movements... among many, many other challenges. At the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, a therapist taught Mariam to hold a pencil in her mouth to write her name. This single lesson exposed Mariam to a new possible way of painting. If she could control a pencil in this way, then why not a paintbrush? With earnest determination, she soon began teaching herself again how to paint using her mouth.
In the beginning this new method of holding the brushes in her mouth to paint was extremely humbling for Mariam. She struggled to paint as well as she once had with her hands, starting at first with stick figures when just months before her injury, she was capable of realistic figure drawing and sophisticated portraits. But she felt all the knowledge was still inside of her, wanting to be expressed. To Mariam, suddenly feeling the full weight of her limitations that first year with paralysis, it felt like a miracle that she still had the ability to do one thing she loved most - to paint - even if in a new and unusual way. The gratitude and joy she felt from re-establishing that ability pushed her onward and gave her hope in the midst of an otherwise uncertain future. She began to practice painting by mouth every day.
Through a combination of sheer will and family support, Mariam carved out a meaningful life after her injury. She broadened the idea of what she thought was possible for herself and continued to develop as an artist and “mouth painter”. In 2003 Mariam began a degree in Fine Art, an Associates Degree in Graphic Design, and a certificate in Web Design. In 2006, she was accepted as a member of the Association of Mouth and Foot Painting Artists (MFPA), an international, exclusive, and esteemed association of artists who paint professionally either by use of their mouth or feet. Mariam also licenses her mouth-painted art in the form of greeting cards, calendars and other products. In 2011 Mariam joined the Associate Board of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago where she helps to coordinate art exhibits to raise funds for RIC’s art therapy program as well as promote awareness to the benefits of art therapy. In 2012, Mariam expanded into the world of non-profit as a founding member of STEAM Studios, an organization that provides world-class arts education to under-served Chicago communities in innovative, and earth friendly (green) arts facilities. She appeared on the Katie Show with Katie Couric in 2013 showcasing her unique talents, and has made other numerous appearances in local news and print media. In October of 2014 international film star Pierce Brosnan learned about Mariam's work and invited her to his Malibu California home where she presented him with a painting she had done of him in his iconic James Bond role.
Mariam often shares her experience and message of determination through public speaking. Beginning in 2005 one of her most memorable events, she spoke in front of an audience of over 10,000 people in New Orleans for the MDRT (Million Dollar Round Table) Annual International Convention, just weeks before Katrina hit. Over the years Mariam has provided inspirational and memorable speaking services for many other groups and companies such as The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, Illinois Spinal Cord Injury Group, the MFPA, Spinalpedia.com, Omorose Cosmetics, and more.
Eighteen years after her violent injury, painting by mouth has become second nature for Mariam, who now proudly possesses painting skills tantamount to that of any able-bodied counterpart. She exhibits her work in galleries both nationally and locally as well as in numerous private collections. She works prolifically from her home studio in suburban Chicago producing exceptional artwork in traditional oil and modern mixed media techniques.
The rest of Mariam's story is yet to happen, but she continues to grow each and every day.